Every time I pass the salad dressing aisle in the store these days, I let out a little sigh. It’s becoming such a regular condition that I’m starting to feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs.
Why this reaction over a simple salad staple? Because dressing can be so easily made at home instead of at some factory pumping out high-fructose-laden goop.
The easiest of all dressings to make also happens to be one of the tastiest: vinaigrette. At its simplest, you can make vinaigrette by mixing vinegar and oil in a ratio of one part vinegar to three or four parts oil, depending on your preference. By adding a few more ingredients, you can make it combine better and taste greater.
The process of combining two ingredients such as oil and vinegar that usually don’t like to combine is called emulsification. A vinaigrette is a classic example of a temporary emulsion because, in time, the two immiscible ingredients will separate. That’s why you shake a bottle of dressing before using: to get the ingredients to recombine, at least temporarily.
To make a vinaigrette go from good to great, I like to add a couple of extra ingredients, namely dried herbs such as oregano, and a dollop of mustard. That latter ingredient will not only add a burst of flavor, it will act as an emulsifier to help keep the vinaigrette more stable.
Emulsifiers such as mustard, honey and even the lecithin compound found in egg yolks are like that peacemaking third friend you had in high school who could make the two others who are usually at odds with each other get along.
With or without such extra ingredients, vinaigrettes can be made in countless ways, with everything from basic red wine vinegar and generic vegetable oil to a pomegranate vinegar and high-end extra virgin olive oil.
For this recipe, I use a decent balsamic vinegar and regular olive oil. The result is a delicious, slightly sweet vinaigrette that is outrageous on salads. In addition to a dressing, it will also work wonderfully as a dip and a marinade for meat.
Ready to make your own vinaigrette? Grab a bowl, a whisk, and let’s get to this.
(makes about 11 ounces)
- 2.5 ounces balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon mustard (Dijon or plain)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried herb such as oregano, basil or parsley
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- 8 ounces olive oil
Step 1: Grab a bowl or a glass pitcher and combine everything except the olive oil. It doesn’t matter what order you put it in. Whisk everything together to combine.
Step 2: Measure the olive oil, then slowly pour it into the vinegar solution, whisking constantly as you drizzle. This also makes a fun family project, if you have a little helper to whisk or pour. Keep whisking until all the oil is in. The vinaigrette will thicken and come together as a uniform liquid.
Step 3: When all the oil is in, taste your vinaigrette and adjust to your liking with extra vinegar, oil, salt or pepper.
Congratulations: You’ve just made a restaurant-quality vinaigrette. Use it on salads, as a dip or as a marinade for meat. Now that you know the basics, you can experiment with other vinaigrette ingredients like honey, fruit juice and more – and never again buy a bottle of that pre-made stuff in the dressing aisle.
Have your own tips or questions on how to make the perfect vinaigrette? Comment below!